European audiences for Champions League final reflect shift from FTA to pay-TV
By Simon Ward
Television audiences in the major European markets for this year’s final of the Uefa Champions League were impacted by the fact that the two participating teams, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur, came from the same country, England, and the gravitation of live coverage from free-to-air to pay-television platforms.
In both Germany and Spain, Liverpool’s 2-0 win attracted around 8 million fewer TV viewers than for the Premier League club’s defeat by Real Madrid in the equivalent match in 2018, as Saturday evening’s fixture, held in the Spanish capital, was only available on subscription platforms in the two countries.
Audiences were also down in Italy and France where there was a mix of free-to-air and pay-TV coverage for what was widely perceived as an underwhelming contest.
In Germany, Sky Deutschland attracted an average audience of 1.9 million (1.67 million on Sky Sport and 230,000 on Sky 1) for its broadcast of the game, which was additionally available on over-the-top streaming service DAZN (for which no figures have been released).
Last year’s Real Madrid-Liverpool match-up was watched by 9.6 million viewers on ZDF, the German public-service broadcaster, and a further 760,000 on Sky.
However, ZDF had by then lost rights to the Champions League for the 2018-19 to 2020-21 cycle, and efforts to agree a late free-to-air deal for this year’s final were unsuccessful, with DAZN refusing to sub-license rights as it seeks to attract new subscribers.
This came as a disappointment to ZDF in light of the presence of Liverpool’s popular German coach Jurgen Klopp, but the country’s broadcasting rules state that the final only has to be shown live and for free if a domestic team is involved, and this has not been the case since 2013.
There was a similar story with the Spanish audience for this year's final, after an average of just 1.3 million viewers tuned in to the exclusive live coverage on the Movistar Liga de Campeones pay-TV channel.
This compares with the 9.3 million who watched last year’s game on Antena 3, the free-to-air commercial network, although that figure was boosted by the participation of Real Madrid, Champions League winners in four of the last five years.
A further 576,000 viewers watched the 2018 final on TV3, the public-service broadcaster in Catalonia, and 276,000 on subscription service BeIN Sports.
In the UK, the first all-English final in 11 years was show by pay-television operator BT Sport, which, in line with its deal with Uefa, also made the showpiece available free of charge on its YouTube channel, albeit there was widespread criticism of the quality of the stream.
The broadcaster has yet to issue TV and digital audience figures.
Italy was the only major European market in which the Champions League final was broadcast on a traditional linear free-to-air TV network. Rai 1, the main channel of the public-service broadcaster, drew an average of 5.66 million viewers, a share of 27.16 per cent.
Pay-TV operator Sky Italia attracted a further 1.36 million viewers, a 6.6-per-cent share.
Rai had a sub-licensing deal with Sky to show selected Champions League fixtures in the 2018-19 season, but is facing competition from commercial rival Mediaset for the contract for the next two years.
Canale 5, the Mediaset-owned free-to-air channel, pulled in 6.8 million viewers for the 2018 Champions League final, the last year of the broadcaster’s previous three-year rights deal.
In France, the Champions League final has to be shown live on a free-to-air channel, and rights-holder Altice Group, the European media and telecoms group, opted to put Saturday’s game out on specialist news channel BFM TV, attracting 2.5 million viewers, a 14.3-per-cent share, in the process.
This is down from the 3.8 million, and 18.6-per-cent share, for last year’s final broadcast on C8, the Canal Plus-owned free-to-air DTT channel.
This year’s climax was also shown on Altice-owned pay-TV channel RMC Sport 1, although no audience figures have been announced.